Blog: Staff Reflections

October 25, 2016

Commentary: Justice is long overdue for the widows of South African mineworkers


We’re very pleased to cross-post this piece by Emily Nagisa Keehne, Associate Director of HRP’s Academic Program, who argues in The Guardian that it’s vital the court of appeals uphold a ruling that makes South Africa’s gold mining industry accountable to women whose husbands died from silicosis. Emily co-authored the piece with her former colleague, Dean Peacock, Executive Director of Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa.

 

“Justice is long overdue for the widows of South African mineworkers”

 

For decades, women in rural South Africa have shouldered the burden of caring for mineworkers who return home with silicosis contracted in South Africa’s gold mines. These women do the back-breaking and emotionally taxing work of caring for men who are dying slow and painful deaths, their lungs irreparably scarred by the silica dust they breathe in underground.

Testimony from women in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province reveals the brutal toll silicosis has taken on families. “My husband was the sole breadwinner,” recalled one woman. “If we had money, he had sent it. During his last days, he lost his strength and his chest closed up. It was difficult for him to cover himself with blankets, so I would cover him up. He could not go outside to relieve himself, so he would do it right there in the bed. I would have to throw it away. On his last day his chest closed up completely. I am left with almost nothing.”

From village to village, such stories were a recurring refrain. “I used to carry [my husband] around,” said another woman. “I used to go from house to house asking for food, we had children going to school. At times I would get piece jobs so we could eat.”

Eventually, this woman’s husband became unable to breathe. He died before he could even get in a car to go to hospital.

These conditions are the predictable outcome of deliberate mining policies.

Starting in the 1880s, when gold was first discovered, gold mining houses colluded with British colonial governments to put in place a range of taxes and legislation that forced black men to leave their land to work in the mines.

Once there, these men were forced to do dangerous jobs. Their work exposed them to malnutrition, tuberculosis and dangerous levels of silica dust. Many developed silicosis, which scars the lungs, makes breathing difficult, increases vulnerability to tuberculosis and can ultimately cause asphyxiation.

Black women, on the other hand, were required to remain in rural areas, where they carried out the work of raising workers and, often, caring for them when they later returned home desperately ill.

This exploitation remained entrenched for most of the 20th century. The mining industry corrupted the medical examination boards ostensibly in charge of mineworkers’ health. The boards then underreported cases of silicosis, decreasing workers’ eligibility for compensation. Together with the apartheid government, the industry set up a distinct and difficult to use compensation scheme. One study by Deloitte found that less than 1.5% of claims had been paid out to eligible miners.

The consequences of this arrangement were predictable. A 2009 report revealed that almost all miners interviewed in the former republic of Transkei, the largest provider of mining labour, had symptoms of respiratory illness. None were formally employed. About 92% said they went without food or experienced hunger on a monthly basis.

South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution has allowed human rights lawyers and mineworkers to begin to hold mines accountable.

In 2011, South Africa’s constitutional court issued a landmark ruling allowing Thembekile Mankayi, who had contracted silicosis working underground, to sue AngloGold Ashanti for full loss of wages, damages and medical expenses, regardless of what was already available to him under the miner-specific compensation scheme.

Human rights lawyers subsequently petitioned the courts to allow a class action lawsuit; potentially, hundreds of thousands of miners would join together to sue for as much as 20-40bn rand (roughly £1.2bn-£2.3bn).

Two South African NGOs – the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an Aids activist group, and Sonke Gender Justice, a gender equality organisation – applied to join the case as amici curiae (impartial advisers to the court), introducing evidence on the social costs of silicosis.

TAC drew attention to the relationship between silicosis and TB. Sonke offered evidence on the gendered impact of silicosis, particularly the financial, emotional and physical burden borne by women and girls who care for sick mineworkers when they return home, often foregoing their own income and education. The amici argued for the authorisation of the class action, and the transmission of claims to widows and dependents.

Despite opposition by the mining houses, the court admitted them as amici. Sonke’s affidavit on the gendered impact of silicosis was also admitted into the proceedings.

In May this year, the Johannesburg high court granted its historic ruling. It amended existing common law to allow general damages to be transmitted to the widows and dependents of miners who died in the early stages of litigation. Prior to this ruling, if plaintiffs died before pleadings had closed their claims would become void.

The ruling sets an important precedent that affirms women’s rights and the imperative to remedy the gendered harms imposed by the mining industry. The mining companies are appealing the decision, however.

As the case unfolds, it is critical to remember what is at stake. A century of damage caused by the South African gold mining industry requires remedy. The mining companies must pay long overdue compensation to the workers, widows, children, and communities they impoverished.

June 20, 2016

Losing Control: The Dangers of Killer Robots

Posted by Bonnie Docherty


This piece originally appeared in The Conversation on June 16, 2016



New technology could lead humans to relinquish control over decisions to use lethal force. As artificial intelligence advances, the possibility that machines could independently select and fire on targets is fast approaching. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction toward reality.

These weapons, which could operate on land, in the air or at sea, threaten to revolutionize armed conflict and law enforcement in alarming ways. Proponents say these killer robots are necessary because modern combat moves so quickly, and because having robots do the fighting would keep soldiers and police officers out of harm’s way. But the threats to humanity would outweigh any military or law enforcement benefits.

Removing humans from the targeting decision would create a dangerous world. Machines would make life-and-death determinations outside of human control. The risk of disproportionate harm or erroneous targeting of civilians would increase. No person could be held responsible. Continue Reading…

May 27, 2016

Thank you, Class of 2016! Plus, pictures from our Commencement Party

 

Dear Class of 2016,

First of all: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT!

Katie King, receiving the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. Photo credit: Martha Stewart.

Katie King, receiving the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. Photo credit: Martha Stewart.

Secondly, we want to send a special congratulations to Katie King, whose tireless work with our partners in South Africa on the right to education earned her the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Chike Achebe, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Lauren Blodgett, Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Mira Chernick, Carson Cook, Rebecca Donaldson, Michelle Ha, Anna E. Joseph, Brian Closterboer, Liz Loftus, Lindsay Mullett, Courtney D. Paterson, Brittany Reid, Ariel Simms, Peter Stavros, Matt Thiman, Jillian Wagman, Noorulain Zafar, and Ye H. Zhang.

Lastly, if we missed you at yesterday’s commencement party, here’s what we would have told you: Thank you. Continue Reading…

Share By Email

loading
Close

May 25, 2016

Class of 2016 Celebrates HRP’s Gabriela Gonzalez Follett with its Staff Appreciation Award

Today at Class Day, we had the great honor of watching our colleague Gabriela Gonzalez Follett rise before the Class of 2016 and accept the Suzanne Richardson Staff Appreciation Award. It was a beautiful sight to see, second only to the sound of her voice as she gave a speech that moved many in the audience to tears.

The Suzanne Richardson Staff Award is given each year to a member of the staff who demonstrates commitment to the student experience and concern for students’ lives and work at the Law School. The Class of 2016 selected Gabriela (Gabbie) as the recipient of this year’s award for her work “around the clock to make sure that students are having an optimally enriching educational experience at HLS.” Continue Reading…

Share By Email

loading
Close

May 12, 2016

Clinical Advocacy Fellow Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, Promoted to Clinical Instructor

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

Today, we in the International Human Rights Clinic are excited to announce that Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, has been promoted to clinical instructor at Harvard Law School.

I first met Anna when she was an LLM student in my disarmament seminar and a member of my cluster munition clinical team.  I knew right away she was someone special.  She stood out from her peers, impressing me with both her intellect and her character.  Four and a half years later, she continues to impress me on a daily basis.

Anna Crowe

Anna Crowe

Since Anna returned to the Clinic as a fellow in 2014, she has demonstrated a gift for teaching and a commitment to promoting human rights and international humanitarian law. She has trained clinical students in the skills of our field, earning their respect and inspiring them to perform at the highest levels.  She has published multiple reports in the areas of disarmament, privacy, and refugees, all of which have had real advocacy impact.  Outside of the Clinic, she has mentored members of HLS Advocates and collaborated with some of our visiting fellows.

Anna has also been a great friend and colleague to me and the rest of the Clinic.

I could go on and on about all that Anna has brought to our community, but suffice it to say, the Human Rights Program is thrilled that she will be around for the coming years.

Congratulations, Anna!

Share By Email

loading
Close

February 17, 2016

Update: Long-Awaited Progress on Apartheid-Era Prosecution

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Last week in South Africa, there was an important—and surprising—development related to the 1983 torture and murder of Nokuthula Simelane.  I previously wrote about the case as an egregious example of the lack of accountability for apartheid-era crimes, as well as the apparent political obstruction that effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of nearly 300 post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) cases.

But perhaps the tide is turning.  On February 8th, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it will charge four former apartheid security policemen with Simelane’s kidnapping and murder.  This represents the first prosecution of apartheid-era perpetrators since a 2007 plea agreement with five senior police officers, among them Adriaan Vlock, who served as Minister of Law and Order.

Former TRC Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the breakthrough as a “most significant and historic decision,” but also questioned why the NPA delayed for decades and proceeded only after Simelane’s family launched a High Court case to compel the NPA into action.  The NPA has said that it is moving ahead now because of the strength of the evidence and merits of the case, which create reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.

The four former members of the Soweto Special Branch—Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Barnard Mong, and Msebenzi Radebe—are due to appear in court on February 26th.  Although three of the accused applied to and received amnesty from the TRC for Simelane’s abduction, none applied for her murder.  Because of this failure to make a full disclosure, the case was referred to the NPA and now appears set to proceed.

January 26, 2016

Moving on from the Human Rights Program (a note from Mindy Jane Roseman)

Posted by Mindy Roseman

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

After ten years as Academic Director at the Human Rights Program, and many years before that as a collaborator at the Harvard School of Public Health, I write to let you know that I am leaving HRP, effective February 5, 2016.  I will be joining Yale Law School as Director of both its International Programs and its Gruber Program on Global Justice and Women’s Rights. This was not an easy decision, especially since it means I will be warming the bench from the other side of the basketball court.

There are many communities at Harvard Law School that are dear to me, but I cherish HRP – its work, staff, faculty, students, alumni – perhaps above all. I’ll still be on campus this semester (teaching a seminar), and my email will be active through June.

I hope to stay in touch and wish you all the best of luck.

Fondly,

Mindy

December 18, 2015

Commentary: The Horror of Incendiary Weapons and the Need for Stronger Law

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

This post, “Unrivaled Cruelty: The Horror of Incendiary Weapons and the Need for Stronger Law,” was originally published in Jurist

Incendiary weapons inflict almost unrivaled cruelty on their victims. Photos taken after an incendiary weapon attack on a Syrian school show the charred bodies of children, who must have experienced unimaginable agony. The weapons cause excruciatingly painful burns, and treatment for survivors requires sloughing off dead skin, which has been likened to being flayed alive. While individuals often react to accounts of such suffering with horror, government efforts to minimize the harm from these weapons by strengthening international law have been unacceptably slow.

Many countries have expressed outrage at the use of incendiary weapons over the past five years, including at meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the treaty that regulates the weapons. The voices of these countries are crucial and they should continue to raise the issue. But it is time to move from condemnation to concrete action. A major disarmament conference scheduled for next year presents an excellent opportunity for progress.

Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. They can be designed to burn people or materiel, serve as smokescreens or provide illumination. People who survive attacks with incendiary weapons not only experience physical injuries, but also frequently endure psychological trauma, permanent disfigurement and difficulties reintegrating into society.

Over the past two years Human Rights Watch has documented new use of incendiary weapons in Syria and Ukraine, and it is investigating allegations of use in Libya and Yemen in 2015. A report recently released by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic provides evidence of these attacks, along with a five-year review of developments on the issue and recommendations for next steps.

Existing international law has failed to prevent the harm caused by incendiary weapons. Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, adopted in 1980, restricts use of incendiary weapons in “concentrations of civilians.” As of December 2015, 112 countries had joined the protocol.

But two key shortcomings have limited its effectiveness. First, it defines “incendiary weapon” as being “primarily designed to set fires to objects or to cause burn injury to persons.” As a result some countries maintain that it excludes munitions with incendiary effects, such as those containing white phosphorus. Although primarily designed to function as smokescreens these weapons inflict suffering comparable to other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus burns through flesh to the bone and can reignite when bandages are removed and the substance is exposed to oxygen.

The protocol also makes an arbitrary distinction between air-dropped and ground-launched incendiary weapons, creating exceptions for certain uses of ground-launched weapons. The delivery system is irrelevant to the victims, however, and ground-launched models have become increasingly common and accessible even to non-state armed groups.

The solution to these problems is legally, if not politically, quite simple. Protocol III should be amended to define the weapons based on their effects rather than their design. And it should at a minimum prohibit the use of all incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians, regardless of their delivery system. An absolute ban would have the greatest humanitarian benefit.

Over the past five years about three dozen countries, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN secretary-general and independent groups, have spoken out about this issue at meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons and other UN bodies, and in letters to Human Rights Watch. Most have highlighted the humanitarian impact of incendiary weapons in general or condemned recent use. Many have urged treaty members to strengthen Protocol III or said they are willing to discuss the adequacy of the protocol.

At the most recent meeting of the states parties, held at the UN in Geneva in November, momentum continued to grow. About 15 countries publicly addressed the incendiary weapons issue, more than in previous years, and others privately expressed support for reviewing Protocol III. A majority of these countries called for closing the protocol’s loopholes while others said they wanted to revisit existing rules. Six countries commented on incendiary weapons for the first time in this forum, demonstrating the increasing recognition of the problem and need to take action. The meeting’s final report included a reference to concerns about incendiary weapons for the fifth consecutive year. Such developments are encouraging.

But amending international law is a slow process and there will be hurdles to success. At the November meeting Russia said the proposal to pursue formal discussions on incendiary weapons would be “counterproductive.” Given that the treaty’s rules require decisions to be made by consensus, Russia alone could block further progress. Russia’s statement on the issue was its first in a meeting of this treaty, however, meaning that at least it takes the calls for change seriously.

The treaty’s Fifth Review Conference—a meeting held every five years—is scheduled for next December and will be an important opportunity for countries to take action. There treaty members will reflect on developments since the last review conference in 2011 and make plans for the next five years. Review conferences have historically been pivotal in the evolution of the treaty and its protocols.

In the coming months countries should ensure that incendiary weapons are placed on the agenda for the review conference. At the conference itself they should continue to express their concerns and agree to a new mandate that sets aside time to discuss the implementation and adequacy of Protocol III. The goal should be to negotiate the amendments needed to strengthen the protocol.

When Protocol III was adopted in 1980, some countries criticized its regulations of incendiary weapons as inadequate. They contended that there had been strong support for a ban but that compromise had watered down the final product. Several held out hope that the protocol’s failings would one day be addressed and recommended that the instrument be improved at a future review conference.

Thirty-five years later that has yet to happen, but it is not too late. The horrendous suffering incendiary weapons have caused civilians in recent years and the growing international opposition mean that the time has come to act. Countries should seize the opportunity presented by the 2016 review conference and take tangible steps to increase the protection of civilians from incendiary weapons.

December 9, 2015

Op-Ed: Staff Are Organizing To Fight Racism at Harvard Law School

Posted by Gabriela Gonzalez Follett

This Op-Ed was originally posted in the Harvard Law School Record, as part of #HLSUntaped, an open discussion on race at the law school. 

When I first started working at Harvard Law School, I had 13 stops. That’s how long it took to get from Ashmont Station, near my childhood home in Dorchester, to Harvard Square, where I had just accepted a job as a program assistant. Thirteen stops I had to convince myself that I belonged at the law school and that I had a place among the elite. Even today, a year later, I stop outside Wasserstein every morning, take a couple of deep breaths, and prepare to leave a part of myself on Massachusetts Avenue.

It’s my job as a staff member to serve the HLS community. I serve students their food, I process affidavit letters for alums, and I book professors’ rooms for meetings. But just because I serve  does not make me a servant. Many people at HLS understand this. But in an institution that has a strong caste system, with very few people of color at the top, it is inevitable that some individuals treat staff as the “other.”

I’ve been described as an affirmative action hire before—that comes with the territory of being Latina in America. But I never thought I’d hear this comment at an elite institution like Harvard Law School, let alone on my second week of work. I never thought I’d hear a student tell  me  I speak well, coming from Dorchester with a Latina background. This rhetoric of racism  is not unique. The narratives I hear from staff of color at the law school about these kinds of micro aggressions are paralyzing, and need to be addressed.

As little support as the students of color get at this school, staff of color get even less. The law school has an opportunity to embrace the movement and empower its community. Establish an office of diversity and inclusion, as well as other institutional changes aimed at curtailing organizational hierarchy and injustice against students, staff and faculty. Make a sustained commitment to the recruitment, retention, promotion, and professional development of staff of color at all levels, particularly in senior management. Implement measures to ensure staff of color are respected and supported in their work, including required cultural competency training for all.

The privilege I have as an administrator in the Human Rights Program allows me to speak out and not fear reprisal. I can organize and attend meetings because my community not only supports and encourages this work, but trusts that I will get my work done. Other staff do not have that kind of freedom.

It has been an honor to take a place in this growing movement at HLS. Relationships are building in all corners of the school. Staff of color are meeting for “family dinner,” a place to find fellowship and work towards empowering each other.  Staff and students are coming together, energized, collaborative, and committed to creating a better climate. Allies across the law school offer support and valuable skills in times where it can feel overwhelming for people of color.

I invite you—staff, students, administrators, senior management, Dean Minow–to join us.

To follow the movement, check out #ReclaimHarvardLaw and #RoyallMust Fall, a campaign specifically targeted at getting the law school’s crest removed. The crest is taken from the seal of the Royall family, known as particularly brutal slavers.

Below, images from an effort led by Gabriela, Anna Crowe and Katherine Talbot  to show staff solidarity with people of color at the law school.

Share By Email

loading
Close

November 20, 2015

In Response to Hate

Posted by Staff and Faculty of the Human Rights Program

Last night, the Harvard University community came together in solidarity for the national ‪#‎studentblackout‬ demonstration. This morning, we woke up to find black tape slashed across the portraits of black professors. We are devastated- for our colleagues, for our students, for our community, and for a world that in so many ways does not acknowledge that ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬.

Our doors are open for anyone in our community who wants to talk about this, and about how we can partner together for change- today and every day.

Below, a portrait of Prof. Randall Kennedy surrounded by notes of love and support from the HLS community. As Harvard police began its investigation into the vandalism this morning as a hate crime, these notes appeared around the portraits of every black professor at HLS.

Randall

 

 

Below, images from the student protest the night before (taken by Gabbie Follett, HRP program assistant).

Share By Email

loading
Close